March 04, 2016

Federal legislation aimed at combating opioid addiction | Huntington Herald Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - West Virginia lawmakers in Washington say the U.S. Senate is expected to pass a comprehensive bill addressing heroin and opioid addiction across the country.

The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act of 2016 would create an interagency task force to craft best practices for prescribing medications that contain opioids and grant federal officials the authority to make drug policy prevention-driven rather than punishment-focused, including funding for drug courts and long-term treatment options.

The bipartisan bill also would provide incentives for states and local communities to pursue prevention and education programs, establish treatment programs of the kind that have been successful and encourage first responders to administer naloxone to reverse overdoses.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., strongly support the legislation.

West Virginia has been the epicenter of the drug crisis, Manchin said. Drug overdose deaths have soared by more than 700 percent between 1999 and 2013, and 600 West Virginians died last year of overdoses. Seventy of those deaths were in Cabell County.

Manchin, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the Senate is working to make the bill better, but it is a step in the right direction.

"It identifies we have a serious medical problem," Manchin said. "It looks at addiction as an illness while we've always looked at it as a crime. If we look at it as preventing people from getting ill, then I think we will see a reduction in crime."

Capito said she expects the bill to pass by a wide margin.

"It's very bipartisan," she said. "Everyone is deeply affected and the consensus is we need to do something. I want to make the country and West Virginia drug-free, but we have to save lives at the same time."

The bill is currently in the amendment process. Both Manchin and Capito are proposing amendments they say would make the bill stronger.

Manchin's first amendment, which provides for more consumer education of prescription drugs and the effects the drugs could have on the person, including signs of addiction, passed unanimously.

"A lot of people got addicted because of lack of information," Manchin said.

He said whether it was a doctor not explaining the effects the drug could have, or a misguided friend giving out their prescribed pills to a friend in need, many were not aware of the damaging affects prescription opioids could have on a person's life.

"It's also based around prevention," he said. "If we want to stop abuse, we have to prevent it from starting."

Manchin said he has three other amendments to present, including one he hopes would change the culture of the Food and Drug Administration to consider the wellbeing of the consumer in approving pain medications, not just the ingredients of a drug.

Manchin has been very critical of the level of involvement the FDA has taken in the opioid drug crisis.

Capito is also proposing four amendments. One is a version of the Cradle Act, which would create standards and guidelines for centers such as Lily's Place in Huntington, which cares for infants suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., introduced the Cradle Act in the House.

Capito's amendment also would ensure reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid for the costs of treatments at those centers.

"Huntington is pioneering in this area," Capito said. "I think there have been others before Lily's Place, but they have done a phenomenal job."

Capito's other amendments would allow for physicians and pharmacists to fill partial opioid prescriptions, prescribe opioid antagonists like naloxone along with opioid prescriptions and expand drug take-back days.

"Huntington and Cabell County have done good job to meet this challenge," Capito said. "This bill definitely emphasizes a more community-based system of recovery and treatment."

Leading up to this bill, which was introduced by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Manchin has been reading stories once or twice a week on the Senate floor of the effect opioid addiction has had on West Virginians.

He said he has even gotten stories from others across the country.

"So if some of the other senators are in chamber, I could read something from someone in their state. That is very moving. We all know somebody whose life has been affected by this epidemic in a negative way."

A final vote on the bill was expected by the end of the week.